A new EMB Science Commentary questions the over-emphasis in global policy discussions on 21st Century impacts of climate change. ‘The ticking time bomb of climate change and sea-level rise’ Science Commentary (pdf) has been launched today, at the VLIZ Marine Science Day, in Bruges, Belgium.
The Commentary questions why global climate policy discussions focus predominantly on a time horizon that extends only to the end of this century. The short policy paper is based largely on a seminal review article published in Nature Climate Change in February 2016 by Clark et al. The authors argue that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activity will remain in the atmosphere and continue to affect the Earth’s climate for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Many of the resulting long-term impacts are now unavoidable. Sea level, in particular, exhibits a much slower response time than rises in air temperature. If we look 10,000 years into the future, it is proposed that even a modest emissions scenario will result in a global mean sea-level of rise of 28 m, causing inundation of many of the world’s most densely populated coastal cities and regions and displacing billions of people.
Advances in ocean and climate modelling mean it is now possible to look much further into the future and the picture that emerges for future generations is one of catastrophic climate change. This longer-term perspective tells us that the need to move towards complete decarbonization of the world’s energy systems is urgent. Put another way, decisions we make in the next 10 years could profoundly affect the next 10,000.